Larry Nassar, a physician who worked both for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, was recently sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after sexually harassing more than 150 women over the past 20 years. Some of those women came forward even years after they were sexually abused. One accuser even said she was harassed as young as six years old. Nassar had also been sentenced to 60 years in July 2017 for child pornography charges.
“I’m giving you 175 years which is 2,100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”
“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you. You do not deserve to walk outside a prison ever again.”
– Judge Rosemarie Aquilina
This disgusting human being is finally going to go where he belongs; however, this is not the end of this horrific ordeal. Mike Golic and Trey Wingo on the ESPN Radio show “Golic and Wingo” noted this is only “the first chapter.”
“I thought that training for the Olympics would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do. But, in fact, the hardest thing I would ever have to do is process that I am a victim of Larry Nassar.”
Nassar was both an assistant professor and team physician at Michigan State. The school fired him in 2016 after the Indianapolis Star newspaper reported allegations from gymnast Rachel Denhollander. Once Denhollander came forward about what Nassar did, waves of victims, including notable gymnasts Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, began to share their experiences, with the arguably most notable and impactful testimony coming from Raisman:
“Imagine feeling like you have no power or voice. Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice and I’m only beginning to just use them. All these brave women have power and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve.”
“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing. The tables have turned, Larry. We are here, we have our voices and we are not going anywhere.”
Eerily, on the “Today” show, Raisman painted a gut wrenching picture when she described how Nassar would make consistent eye contact with her during her testimony, ensuring not to break it when her eyes met his.
Another powerful moment during the trial came from another of Nassar’s patients, 15-year-old Emma Ann Miller, who started getting treatment from Nassar when she was 10. “I am possibly the last child he will ever assault,” said Miller during her testimony.
But despite justice being served, this is only the beginning of the story. “This is bigger than Larry Nassar. We have to get to the bottom of how this disaster happened,” said Raisman. The scary part of this scandal is that there are probably more victims than cases reported.
“You seem to have a hard time looking at me now, but you didn’t when I was half-naked on your table. What kind of doctor can tell a 13-year-old they are done growing by the size of their pubic bone?”
After the trial, USA Gymnastics announced that the entire board of directors resigned in wake of the trial per the request of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Lou Anna Simon, who was the Michigan State president, also resigned.
Recently, a report from The Athlete’s Nicole Auerbach came out saying that NCAA president Mark Emmert was informed about 37 incidents at Michigan State in 2010 and did nothing.
In the lawsuit, it was said that USA Gymnastics covered up the ordeal by making McKayla Maroney sign a $1.25 million non-disclosure agreement. Michigan State had also been accused of enabling Nassar to continue doing what he had been doing.
“The Olympics were just one year away. And I just couldn’t take any more of the abuse. I was broken. Larry, my coaches and U.S.A. Gymnastics turned the sport I fell in love with as a kid into my personal living hell.”
Shortly after the publication of the Indianapolis Star’s investigative report, the Michigan Attorney General’s office brought a criminal case against Nassar for the three charges of first degree sexual misconduct with a person under 13 in November 2016 (this was later increased to 12 in June, 2017). This initial filing led to a number of other court cases, a lawsuit against Michigan State University, US Gymnastics, and Nassar and a sexual assault allegation in Texas. Nassar also plead guilty to an unrelated child pornography charge, for which he was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison.
It smells like there is more to this story than what is being reported.
Did Michigan State and USA Gymnastics not learn from the Penn State University scandal when former defensive coordinator of the football team, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted in 2011 for child sex abuse? These institutional cover-ups echo each other. And they also hint at the potential for other cover ups at collegiate athletic institutions. Larry Nassar worked as a team doctor at Michigan State, pretty low on the totem pole. If the university, from the top of its authority, was willing to overlook the whispers and complaints from within the institution concerning Nassar, then what does that say about the potential for others to abuse students, teenage athletes, minors, etc.?
The desire for institutional protection and insulation from these scandals increases the higher the level of power. There is greater potential for institutional obfuscation and cover-up if the perpetrator is higher up the food chain. It simply begs the question, how many more Larry Nassar’s and Jerry Sandusky’s are being protected?
Either by their status or by an institution that does not want the attention associated with hiring a sex offender. And what happens when an institution of higher education takes the right step and releases someone because of workplace sexual misconduct? These questions have no correct or knowable answers, but we need to consider them in the context of this case, and the future of safety and security for all, particularly in athletic institutions and university campuses.
“Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser. One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault.”
For many people, the best point of comparison is the Penn State scandal with Jerry Sandusky. Both cases involve trusted university athletics officials taking advantage of their positions to rape minors. However, the court cases are very different in how they developed and how they were handled. Nassar plead guilty to the one set of charges brought against him (the child pornography charges), which resulted in him serving 60 years in prison even if he didn’t get convicted in the case with the gymnasts. Nassar also plead guilty to the sexual misconduct charges. Sandusky, on the other hand, chose not to plea guilty. Sandusky even tried to appeal the initial guilty verdict (which was denied) and appealed for release on the grounds of his old age and failing health (which was also denied).
This meant that, unlike Sandusky’s trial, most of the meat of Nassar’s trial was in the sentencing. Sentencing is the part of the trial where the person on trial (called a defendant), after being found guilty or pleading guilty, is given their punishment (called a sentence). In some states, sentencing can feel like a legally distinct part of the trial and (for crimes with a death sentence) can almost be a second trial. Some states permit a judge to allow for the defendant’s victims (or the victims’ family) to testify as part of the sentencing before the judge hands down a sentence. Judge Aquilina opted to allow Nassar’s victims to address Nassar before handling down the sentence. This allowed for powerful moments of the victims addressing Nassar, to excoriate him for his abuses. Indeed, even the judge got in on the vilification.
“I reported it. Michigan State University, the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.”
But it is easy to look at the victims and justice turning toward Nassar, punishing him, then leaving him to rot in prison. Same with Sandusky. It’s easy for us, in the public, to act shocked and appalled by someone committing these heinous acts, then wondering how it all could have happened. It is especially naive of us, in the public, to assume that it will never happen again, because one or two men were caught and put away.
The structure of these institutions that allowed Nassar and Sandusky to succeed in their professions while making the lives of others a living hell persists. Their misdeeds were enclosed, allowing them to work and live in the world for decades without harm to them. The people at Penn State who shielded Sandusky are now gone. The people at Michigan State and US Gymnastics who shielded Larry Nassar are leaving. But we cannot assume that people, structures, and institutions everywhere are changing. We must require a higher standard of professional conduct and institutional conduct, especially in our universities. We must require, all of us, to look at our actions and behaviors, and determine what we can do better in the future, or to assist others who may be under abuse, or if we hear a rumor about sexual abuse.
This is a call to improve.
Not necessarily because some bloke on the internet is telling you to. But because no one deserves what happened to the children at The Second Mile. No one deserves what happened to Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and the women of USA Gymnastics. If people cannot live their lives freely in society without undergoing abuse, then society has failed those people. There is always an opportunity to do better. For ourselves, for our loved ones, for our communities, for society. That is the lesson of the victims.
“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
Maybe something like this will empower women to finally speak out against their abusers and that justice can be served for those heinous crimes. What these survivors did was incredibly brave, but not only that, it was very important. They prevented other young women from being in that same position further down the road. Justice will never be fully served for the nearly 150 women who spoke out against their abuser, but they are heroes and role models. Let these ladies like Simone Biles, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman be symbols for every women who had gone through similar ordeals to stop these monsters from continuing any more destruction.
“Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”
*This article was written in collaboration with Dan Nicotera, Tali Raphael, and James Rowe with input from Malikah French and Ashley Maciag
Here is a link to Malikah French’s follow up opinion piece
Videos to watch: